This morning, before I was completely awake, my son came into my bedroom with a handheld torch, instead of putting on the lights, in a bid not to wake me up. His father came in behind him and Harris shone the torch unevenly over the wardrobe for a monent, quickly round the bedside shelves, places where Toby was reaching for clothes or his watch. Harris was technically supposed to be helping Daddy, I think, but he is only 4 so the strange new potential of a light he can move himself is much more interesting than any mere purpose for it. I lay in bed, my eyes drawn to the torchbeam like a cat’s, as it bounced around the walls and the curtains and the surfaces. Our messy bedroom, which is also the junk room, still full of unpacked boxes – looked under torchlight like the backstage at a theatre, full of costumes and props. The magic of light.
Two years ago, when the children’s daycare was nestled between the woods and the sea, I used to bring a torch for Sanna to carry on the return home on dark evenings, and a small electric lantern for Harris to watch in the footwell of his pushchair, and we were festooned with reflective badges and stickers. Sanna’s torch was very interesting to the 5 year old boys. “Can we look at your torch, Sanna” they would ask, and she would saunter all cool and “yeah okay” back to the daycare fence, the torch lying in the palm of her hand as if it was the most casual thing in the world to have a torch of your own, but the broad grin bouncing around her cheeks giving away her excitement, and the children would all crowd round to look at the torch for a few minutes and then she would stride home head up, torch out, ready for anything and holding her own.
One year before that in Helsinki, I had arrived at a different daycare in the city, with the heavy and homesick heart of a recent migrant on a sombre evening and wondering how we would bear our first long, gloomy Finnish autumn-winter — and been enchanted to see the twinkling pattern made in the dark by a dozen or so high vis vests as the little ones ran skittering around under the daycare’s playground lights. And suddenly not so scared of the dark autumn-winter (and I did not even know then what it would feel like when autumn could contain the hope for flashy brilliant diamantine snow to come soon, and I did not know about the wonderful last weekend at Linnanmäki, our funfair in town, which turns itself on into one giant kaleidoscopic glitterbomb of coloured lights before closing for the season. The weather may be too warm for snow this year, the fear of the virus may be too much to try Linnanmäki this year. Let’s not think about that yet. The kids are good at sorting themselves out, they live in the present – when they want to, they just switch on the disco ball and blast music from a phone and they dance in swirling coloured lights.)
This autumn I need light more than ever, but I have learnt to take my dark with my light. I read about the Chinese tradition of the midautumn festival. Like harvest festival but with extras: coloured lanterns and mooncakes, I want something like that. In December the windows all over Finland will light up with Christmas stars but we will need something to keep going with until then.
Sometimes in autumn when I wake up and make coffee I look out from the kitchen and the sky is streaked over the sea with pink and peach and purple like a crazy cocktail. Those are good days. Half an hour later, the morning sun shines low between the trees and the plants on our balcony and makes grey silhouetted branches and tomato vines on our white walls. If that morning light is bright enough and the children are awake they act out dramas of shadow bunnies and shadow dinosaurs.
This year more than any other we know that good enough is wonderful. Boredom has become aspirational and daily life is a celebration. In spring we put teddy bears in our windows and waved at unknown toddlers on the path who had stopped their parents and were delightedly pointing out our own teddy bears to us. This week Sanna and I decided we will make small lanterns and hang them in our windows. Even if we can’t see the toddlers in the dark outside, I know they will be there, because at a different time, my children will be out walking a dark path in a strange autumn. I want those unknown toddlers to know that we have left a light on as a promise that we will be waving at them again, come spring.